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Tourist Traffic Contracts in Wake of Swine Flu Fears
Swine flu fears deal a blow to travel trade worldwide.

Reacting sensitively to swine flu fears now sweeping through major tourist destinations worldwide, both outbound and inbound tourist markets are hit hard with growing number of travel cancellations.

Most of reservations made for the month of May have been cancelled or postponed to June and thereafter, a local travel agent told the Seoul Times.

So far, U.S. markets are hit most but number of reservations scheduled for China and elsewhere in Asia are being withdrawn or put off, another tour operator said.

To cope with the situation, air carriers serving North American destinations move to waiver commissions for revision of travel plan for the convenience of air travelers.

Outbound tourist traffic to Japan and Southeast Asian countries, however, appear to be less affected as of now unlike China which saw mass travel cancellations last week.

Inbound market is also hit hard by fallout from global swine flu fears with more cancellations of would-be Japanese visitors are being reported.

On April 30 alone, as many as 170 cancellations were reported at one of major inbound tour operators in Seoul. Another tour operator told the Seoul Times on condition of anonymity that 260 Japanese tourists withdrew their earlier plans to visit Korea in May on the occasion of what they described as "Golden May Holidays."

All of them cited swine flu fears as reasons behind the cancellations, which are likely to increase further unless SI fears are soothed.

Swine flu fears or popularly known here as SI fears come when weakening Japanese yen value against Korean won started pouring cold water on once booming inbound market.

Major tourist hotels in Seoul and elsewhere in the country are yet to see any significant increase of room cancellations, however.

Novotel Ambassador Doksan in Seoul, for instance, registers an average daily room occupancy rate of 80 % for foreign visitors on weekdays and 60% on weekends respectively, according to Kim Hye-jin, sales manager of the hotel.

In the meantime, seasonal student excursion tours earlier scheduled for May are cancelled, although bookings are for the months of June and July remain unaffected.

If and when SI fears to spread further worldwide, chances are high for tour operators to see disastrous situation comparable to SARS shock years ago, Lee Kwang-won, sales manager at Global Tour said..

When the SARS outbreak hit Asia in spring 2003, it caught not only health officials by surprise, but also the travel industry and retailers. By the time the worst of the event ended a few weeks later, it had caused fewer than 800 deaths but had cost global businesses more than $30 billion.

Despite the relatively limited impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the disease managed to shave as much as 1 percent from growth in affected countries in 2003, according to the World Health Organization. If swine flu turns out to be as bad as or worse than the SARS outbreak, it could further damage the already beaten down world economy, economists say.

Asian airlines and U.S. carriers that flew to Asia in 2003 were hit hard by SARS. During the first five months of the year, airlines in the Asia-Pacific region saw 50 percent of their traffic vanish before ending the year about 8 percent down, according to the International Air Transport Association. North American carriers lost 3.7 percent of their total international traffic due to SARS.'

Although airlines already are suffering because of the global recession and other pressures, they are at least better equipped this time to deal with a public health problem.

In the meantime, The United Nations health agency – the nerve centre for the global response to the recent outbreak of influenza A(H1N1) infections or swine fluon May 1 confirmed that over 300 people in almost a dozen countries have contracted the new flu strain.
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) stressed that it is "prudent for people who are ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms following international travel to seek medical attention," the agency considers the imposition of travel restrictions or border closures as ineffective in halting the spread of the virus.

"The focus now is on minimizing the impact of the virus through the rapid identification of cases and providing patients with appropriate medical care, rather than on stopping its spread internationally," WHO said in its latest update concerning the outbreak.

As of 14:20 Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) on May 1, laboratory confirmed cases of the virus rose to 331 worldwide, up from 236 yesterday, with Mexico reporting 156 infections and nine deaths, as well as the United States reporting 109 confirmed A(H1N1) cases and one death.

According to WHO, the other countries reporting laboratory confirmed infections with no deaths are Austria (1), Canada (34), Germany (3), Israel (2), Netherlands (1), New Zealand (3), Spain (13), Switzerland (1) and the United Kingdom (8).

For the third consecutive day, WHO places its pandemic alert at Phase 5 – of a six-level warning scale – which means that sustained human to human transmission had been confirmed, with widespread community outbreaks in at least two regions.

Acknowledging that there was very little chance that current vaccines used against seasonal influenza could be effective against the new A(H1N1) flu strain, Marie-Paule Kieny, Director of WHO's Initiative for Vaccine Research, noted that the agency is in discussion with manufacturers to produce an inoculation as soon as possible.

"We have no doubt that making a successful vaccine is possible within a relatively short period of time," said Ms. Kieny. However, the first dosage to leave factories available for immunizing people will take four to six months.






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